Week 51: IthacaSince everything's going "back to where it all started" this week--the calendar, the reprise of the "everyone gathering around the big golden statues" scene from the first issue, the return of the Bennett/Jadson art team, the preview of next issue's cover--and since I imagine next week's final post will have a lot of stuff from the issue at hand to chew on, this might be a good time to recapitulate a few points I've covered before, in convenient list format.
That list would be Stuff I Want, As a Reader, From Future Weekly/Event Comics, and How It Relates to 52:
1) 52 has singlehandedly used up the novelty of "the weekly comic." From here on out, if they're going to capture my interest, "event" projects need to be about something--both in terms of their plot and in terms of their theme. Pop quiz: in a sentence, what's 52 about? What's the elevator pitch? "A year without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman" doesn't actually tell us anything much that's relevant to the story. Is it about the return of the parallel earths? Well, the ending seems to be--but most of the story isn't about that, or even building up to that. Is it about the reintroduction of 30-to-35-year-old Jack Kirby material into the main narrative current of the DCU? That's an effect, not a premise, and a setup for future stories, not a story itself. Civil War was a hair-tearing-out affair in a lot of ways, but it had a specific plot and some larger ideas behind that plot. 52? Not so much, as entertaining as its high points have been.
(Incidentally, I'd like to note for the record that I called the return of the parallel earths half a year ago... although, as I noted, I wasn't the first. And between this week's cover, DiDio's spoiler a while back, and the dialogue in this week's Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes--Booster Gold stealing a "tachyon disrupter rifle" because he's got "fifty-two worlds to save"--it's now obvious that's what's going on. I mean, I might yet eat crow next week. But I don't think I will.)
2) Here's a way 52 has set both a good and a bad example: artistic consistency. J.G. Jones' covers? Amazing, week after week. The trade dress--the cover design, and the ticker on the cover? Also a very nice touch. Giffen's layouts? They served as a unifying and clarifying element. The rest of the interior art? Joltingly inconsistent. There's been no real look and feel for 52, no way in which its appearance and style are its own. If the whole thing had looked like, say, Joe Bennett's issues, that'd have given it more of a flow; if the whole thing had looked more like Giffen's drawings, it could have been a lot more fun to look at.
3) Future weeklies/events need to be much more tightly plotted, start to finish, before the first issue starts rolling. 52, from what I gather, seems to have drifted off in some unexpected directions and then not gotten around to some potentially cool stuff it was going to include (and nine major characters was way too many). The pacing of its second act, in particular, was pretty slack. (Admittedly, the "one week per issue" gimmick kneecapped its capacity for cliffhangers.) Paul Dini has supposedly written a 100-page-plus "bible" for how Countdown and the DCU around it will operate for the next year; that's a good sign.
4) An event comic is effectively one more damn thing to buy, so if it's going to lead continuity, it has to feel like a flagship--which also means it has to be easier to jump onto, at least at the beginning, than any ordinary superhero comic. That's something that Waid's The Brave and the Bold is doing really well right now (the new one made me more interested in the current Blue Beetle than any of the handful of issues of Blue Beetle itself I've read), and that 52 was shaky about at best. It's not something I could hand to friends who read Ultimate Spider-Man or Bone or DMZ or All-Star Superman and say "here, this will all make sense to you by about ten pages in." If you don't know who Mister Mind is, for instance, the big reveal at the end of the penultimate issue of the series makes absolutely no sense.
This seems to be a recurring issue at DC. This week, I read Amazons Attack #1, which I couldn't make head or tail of despite having an M.A. in DC continuity (I hear I should've read Wonder Woman #8 first, but I'm not going back to the store to fill in the blanks of an issue numbered #1)--and whose title (at least), I remembered, was originally going to be one of the pre-Infinite Crisis minis. Memo to the Powers That Be: Just because you've got a piece of intellectual property lying around doesn't mean you have to use it.
5) Similarly, a thing 52 did really well at first, and a related thing it could've done better: the "old vs. new" problem. There are almost 70 years' worth of DC continuity to play with, and one of the most fun things about at least the first half of 52 was its sense of navigating through a huge and wonderful world full of characters and places that have rich, exciting stories behind them. But there's also a tragedy and farce involved in making history repeat itself over and over--recycling and updating franchises until they've worn to transparency. I don't want to see another '80s series revived, even the ones I liked. No Arak, Son of Thunder, no Vigilante, no Nathaniel Dusk, no Cinder and Ashe, no... oh, jeez, virtually every other example I was thinking of has actually already been given its own new series in the last couple of years. I mean, I'd be happy for any of them to appear in passing, but I'd also love event comics to introduce useful characters and concepts to the canon. Toys 52 has introduced (rather than reconfigured) that are still around for other people to use as of One Year Later: Lady Styx (was she a 52 invention or a Starlin invention?), Everyman, Oolong Island, and... can that really be it?
6) Bonuses. I really liked the two-page origin stories--they were a great little lagniappe for the issues they appeared in--and it's useful to have something to get curious readers up to speed on the tricky continuity of stuff like 52. (Actually, as much as I've enjoyed annotating the obscuro references in this series, I've thought a couple of times that it'd have been great to have issues end with a one- or two-page explanatory text feature, pointing toward particular issues or collections referenced by the story, in lieu of the old Silver Age "editor's notes"...)
7) It has to come out on time, because the point for readers is enjoyment rather than frustration. Full points and an extra high five to 52 for this one.
8) Above all this, "event" comics need to not just fulfill their continuity function but be totally fun and exciting in their own right--every time I get burned, it makes me less interested in picking up the next big crossover. One thing I neglected to mention in so many words last week about the World War III specials was that they were so crummy and joyless they actively annoyed me. What I'm getting, and what I think other people are getting too, isn't "event fatigue" so much as a longing for the hype to pay off in pleasure rather than in tiresome metaplot machinations, and a feeling of being bait-and-switched too often. The thing that drew me to 52 in the first place (and made me even contemplate the insane idea of doing this blog) was the writers' enthusiasm for the energy of their collaboration, and as inconsistent as it's been, there have been parts where they're obviously really getting into it. That pleasure in creation and play is infectious, it's what I liked best about the series, and it's what I want from the projects it's paved the way for.
Giffen Layout Watch: It's like there's a little 3/4-size edition of the Red Tornado, going "39! 39! 39!"
Pg. 3: A much milder version of the return of Odysseus--he doesn't have to slaughter the suitors, just comment on Roger's toupée.
Pg. 5: The young boy, of course, isn't going to get named here. And wouldn't be great if Donna didn't immediately assume Diana's hairstyle and body type once she put on the costume?
Pg. 7: John Stewart sighting #1.
Pg. 9: The S******y statue in panel 2 sure looks like it was flown in from a few pages earlier--pixelated, even. But that's a great explanation of Tim's new costume.
Pg. 10: John Stewart sighting #2. The guy moves fast. (Can somebody tell me where Hal Jordan's been through all of this?) So did Mogo actually fly Alan home, as panel 4 suggests? Doesn't he have a gravitational field? (Isn't that exactly the problem Rann was dealing with in The Rann-Thanagar War?) Also: was Adam's blindness for the rest of this storyline something that was supposed to have greater resonance than it did?
Pg. 11: I don't recognize the flame creatures--although they sure seem like the kind of thing that would have menaced Rann back in the Mystery in Space days, and other flame creatures appeared in Diana's series in 1964, and again in the unnameable series in 1968. But the most notable flame creatures in DC history appear briefly in this issue's backup: the fire giants of Appellax, who first appeared in the original origin of the Justice League. (Barry Allen uses the technique Adam suggests to deal with his giant.) And can anybody ID the other Green Lantern?
Pg. 14: I was wrong: two pages was exactly the amount of space it took to wrap this plot thread up satisfactorily.
Pg. 15: Those aliens look like a cross between this guy and this guy, with a little Apokoliptic squiggle on their shirts, to boot. Might as well have just been wearing T-shirts that said "Kirby Is Coming!"
Pg. 19: Some kind of atavistic comics-reader species-memory makes me think that this X-Treem '90s version of Mr. Mind must be a visual riff on the revelation of the big bad Mr. Mind as the bespectacled worm in the original "Monster Society of Evil" serial back in the '40s. (And, like Sobek, he's hungry--the return of the devouring meme I mentioned a while ago.) But I have no idea--that stuff hasn't been in print in sixty years. Kind of a problem for a source of allusions, when you think about it.
Pg. 20: Interesting that Rip says "lose" rather than "die"--there's some larger cause they're working for.
The Origin of the Justice League of America: Those are some big, toothy smiles. Retconned to be part of the origin: Black Canary, which is only fair, since she was removed from the redrawn cover of JLA #21 a few weeks ago. Re-retconned to be part of the origin again: Wonder Woman!
If there's something you'd like to see me talk about here next week, get your requests in now, and I'll see what I can do--!